As iPads, tablets, smartphones, and other mobile devices become more ubiquitous, so do the means of translating IBM i apps to mobile-friendly versions.
The convenience of mobile devices is just the beginning of yet another technology advance that one suspects will utterly transform business life over the next few years. Not that it hasn't already, but we most likely have only begun to exploit 24/7 connectivity compared to what will be commonplace in the future.
Unlike some technological innovations of the past, mobile access to information is being embraced by IBM i users just as much as by the mainstream public. No better illustration of this trend exists than the number of existing application-development and modernization tools that include the ability to extend i-server apps to mobile appliances.
Demand Outstripping Supply
"The demand from employees to use mobile applications for their work is huge," observes Sam Elias, vice president and general manager of Rocket Software's application development, integration, and modernization business unit. "There is a ten-to-one ratio of employees who need mobile-enabled applications to in-house development teams who can provide them. IT shops are trying to keep their heads above water because mobile applications have been adopted so quickly compared to any other development trend, and companies are looking for ways to develop and deploy applications quickly to their mobile workforce."
What's causing this outstripping of supply, however, may be the simple illusion that translating software from the green screen to the palm screen is more complicated than it really is.
"There are still a lot of people who don't understand that this [translation of apps] can be done fairly quickly and easily," notes Eamon Musallam, product manager at looksoftware. "The lack of infrastructure puts people off. There's a lack of knowledge about options," he adds.
"I think there are different sets of challenges here," observes Alex Roytman, CEO of Profound Logic Software. "For the business execs, the challenges include determining the business benefits of mobilizing, determining what devices to use, and determining what development costs are involved. For developers, the challenges are understanding and agreeing on the technologies (front- and back-end languages involved) for mobile-enabling and creating new mobile apps for IBM i—especially when native device features are being integrated into the application—and whether or not they have the right tools/skill sets to take on mobile projects."
"So the current situation is that companies don't have a stable of mobile developers," summarizes Elias, "but they also don't want to pay someone else to develop mobile apps for their internal users. That's why there's a market for vendor tools geared toward in-house developers."
Creating New Apps vs. Translating Existing Ones
Is there more demand for creating new apps with the added capabilities of mobile gear or for translating existing server apps to mobile-device versions?
"The latter appears to be more common," Musallam comments. "Our customers and prospects are seeking ways of taking existing functionality in existing IBM i 5250 applications and making a subset of that functionality available in mobile devices. There are many variations on this, but that's a common starting point."
"Really, it depends on the business objective," disagrees Elias. "In general, our customers are responding to their employees' need to access key parts of IBM i applications via a mobile application user experience that's no different from what they expect from the other apps on their phones or tablets."
"We really see a range of different approaches, which includes both new development and mobile-enabling existing green-screen apps, with no clear winner," Roytman observes. "However, those that are mobile-enabling existing apps will often add new capabilities that you can’t get in a green-screen, such as maps, signature capture, and taking pictures with the device to associate with data entry."
The demand, it seems, also doesn't care much about what goes on under the covers to deliver mobile access to server apps.
"Your typical mobile user couldn't care less about whether the app they are using is native or hybrid or HTML5. They just want it to work on their mobile device, be intuitive to use, and give them the info they need quickly. So our customers create their mobile apps around that need," Elias stresses.
"Most customers are risk-averse at the moment, and so they are typically looking for solutions that are lower cost and lower risk," Musallam notes. "Taking existing applications and reusing the existing business logic for mobile devices generally achieves these objectives."
The Future Is More Demand
When asked which technology will most affect the future of mobile devices, Elias cites HTML5. "Companies are looking for the fastest way to get an app out to enterprise users on multiple mobile platforms, and the value proposition of HTML5 is that you can build that app one time and it will run on all common platforms."
Roytman agrees. "I think the next most critical technology is HTML5 and hybrid applications, which address the costs and development effort associated with creating apps for multiple mobile platforms. I believe most enterprise mobile apps going forward will be based on HTML5/hybrid technologies."
"I don't think there is one specific critical issue," opines Musallam. "It's more the continued rapid adoption of mobile devices among management and users within the IBM i community that makes it increasingly compelling and a higher priority as time progresses."
Whether your enterprise needs to build new mobile apps or to simply provide mobile access to existing server software, there are numerous application-building options available, most of which can deliver either option.
What follows are tools for modernizing IBM i apps to accommodate access via mobile devices or for generating entirely new mobile-device apps that are based on IBM i-native server apps. Product descriptions are simply summaries of major capabilities. For more complete information, click on product names for links to product pages on the associated vendor Web sites.
And as always when looking for products or services, be sure to check the MC Press Online Buyer's Guide.
Solutions That Generate
Mobile Versions of System i Apps
Strategi SOA is a development tool that lets programmers build Web applications or extend System i server applications to browser-friendly environments, including wireless devices. The product also lets developers break apps up into components for deployment in Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) environments and for modification via Eclipse, MS .NET, or Visual Studio.
AMPchroma is a Java-based platform for creating, publishing, and managing software applications on mobile devices. The suite includes separate modules for developing native versions of apps that maximize device optimization, deploying apps, and handling messaging between mobile users and enterprise apps. The suite also includes a Web-based management console.
DataGate provides native access to IBM i and SQL data for mobile, Web, and Windows applications by enabling apps written in ASNA's Visual RPG to connect directly to IBM i or SQL databases.
Mobile RPG lets developers leverage their existing RPG skills to build mobile-device versions of server applications. Applications can replicate IBM i application versions or build apps with new features. Mobile RPG lets RPG programmers build applications for smartphones and tablets that can access IBM i databases in real time.
Wings offers an RPG application modernization tool that builds browser UIs for legacy applications via IBM Rational's Open Access API. The interfaces are compatible with desktop and mobile-device browsers. Developers can integrate this UI with other applications and legacy systems and convert applications one screen at a time.
VHI, traditionally a solution for integrating client and server apps, also integrates server apps with tablet devices. VHI helps users repurpose server apps with mobile versions, provide customized HTML access to host apps, and translate green-screen software to mobile-ready services.
Business Computer Design International (BCD)
Both WebSmart products generate Web applications via templates included with the product. The ILE version generates RPG code, while the PHP version generates applications in Zend Corporation's PHP language. Generated applications are accessible by any browser, including those running on mobile devices. Procedures within both products let developers tailor application displays for dedicated use on mobile devices or develop Web apps that can display a different interface, depending on what type of device is being used to access them.
WebSmart Mobile, launched last month, offers templates, user-interface code snippets, and support for all mobile platforms to provide a means of creating IBM i apps for mobile-device screens. WebSmart Mobile ties into both WebSmart ILE and WebSmart PHP to support server apps written in both ILE RPG and PHP.
WebSmart Presto translates existing IBM i green-screen apps to mobile-device screens.
Valence offers an application framework for retrofitting IBM i apps to run in a Web 2.0 environment, for building RPG-based web apps that run on IBM i, or for building browser-based versions of IBM i apps that are accessible via mobile-device browsers.
Convertigo Mobile Enterprise Application Platform is an open-source tool suite that lets developers generate new applications from old ones. New app versions can run on mobile devices and incorporate such features as mashups, SOA and Web services compatibility, browser accessibility, SQL connectivity, and HTML support.
LegacyWeb regenerates existing RPG, ILE RPG, and COBOL applications in HTML, enabling those apps to run in a browser environment. LegacyWeb can also generate XML that provides a gateway between legacy applications and wireless applications.
The GeneXus Smart Device Generator lets programmers build applications for mobile devices via HTML5 by describing a technology-independent version of the desired application, generating source code via GeneXus, and deploying it with a single click.
An update of the company’s legacy 4GL, GeneXus X Evolution 2 adds a native mobile smart-applications generator for Android, BlackBerry, and iOS devices. Developers can build mobile-device versions of server apps or new, technologically independent software versions.
Rational Host Access Transformation Services (HATS) converts 5250 green-screen applications to Web, mobile-device, and other user interfaces and extends them as standard Web services. Major features include an editor for developing macros and Web services.
Rational Open Access RPG Edition provides enhancements to the RPG language that let developers write I/O handlers that open legacy applications to a wide range of resources, such as browsers, mobile devices, cloud computing, Web services, external databases, XML files, and MS Office applications such as Excel spreadsheets.
Although not a tool for building applications on mobile devices, Device Anywhere is a cloud-based application testing suite for apps running on mobile devices or Web sites. Developers can use Device Anywhere suite members to manually or automatically test applications on hundreds of mobile devices concurrently.
LANSA's aXes (which is also offered by Linoma Software under a partnership agreement) lets enterprises deploy legacy host applications to a browser, including browsers on mobile devices, without writing new code via an automated process. The product's eXtensions feature also generates Windows GUI features (e.g., images, dropdowns, checkboxes), and other options enable remote SQL queries and access to spooled files.
LANSA Composer is a tool for integrating business activities that involve data transport. It lets users move data from one place to another, transform the data from one format to another (e.g., server and wireless device displays), and orchestrate processes. Its wizard-based Web services tools let users consume Web services, expose LANSA or 3GL code as a Web service, and integrate application transactions via eXtensible Markup Language (XML) and more than 30 Java plug-in services.
LANSA Integrator is strategic middleware that enables application-to-application and business-to-business services via XML and Java plug-ins. It facilitates data exchanges between a server and wireless devices, supports multiple data formats, lets users publish or access third-party Web services), and sends and receives XML transactions between business partners.
LongRange is a mobile-device application development package that builds native mobile device apps using RPG, COBOL, and CL with DDS. Focused entirely on replicating IBM i apps rapidly, LongRange lets developers deploy new app versions via Apple's App Store and Android's Google Play.
RAMP (Rapid Application Modernization Process) from LANSA is a modernization suite for IBM i applications. It provides an application framework that's deployable as either a Windows rich-client or Web app browser, including browsers on Android and iPad tablets.
Visual LANSA is a Windows IDE that lets developers build single code-base applications that are portable between IBM i, wireless devices, and other platforms. The Visual LANSA Framework enables programmers to prototype and create graphical Windows and Web applications with a consistent look and behavior, use platform-portable business rules and database triggers, and deploy the results on any mixture of IBM i, Linux, Web, or Windows platforms.
newlook generates improved UIs for legacy applications, including for display on mobile devices. The product features drag-and-drop support for refacing options, multiple APIs, SOA compatibility, and integrated support for emulation, mobile clients, and zero-deployment and smart-client GUIs.
Magic's xpa application-building environment has been extended to enable developers to build a single version of an application and then deploy it to a wide range of platforms, including mobile devices, IBM i (including servers running AIX and Linux), and Windows.
OnWeb converts System i apps to Web or .NET interfaces, enables real-time communication between mobile devices and IBM i back-end applications, deploys applications securely to internal users, generates Web services automatically from System i screens and business logic, and can present data from multiple sources as Web pages.
m-Power offers a solution for both converting legacy software to browser and wireless-device compatibility and developing new Web applications based on System i software. The product generates Java code for portability and scalability, provides a tutorial interface that lets even non-programmers convert apps, and can convert third-party software or custom programs.
Profound Logic Software
Profound UI is an enhancement for RPG based on IBM's RPG Open Access that offers direct generation of UIs within RPG. The product offers point-and-click tools for building browser interfaces that can then be integrated with new or legacy applications for the IBM i, or displayed on mobile devices. The Profound UI includes Profound Logic's established Genie product, which helps enterprises Web-enable their legacy apps without altering any existing code by generating standard HTML to handle Web interfaces.
Open Edge is a platform-neutral development environment for creating software applications that run on mobile devices. The applications support RIA and browser accessibility.
Research in Motion
The BlackBerry Enterprise Server for IBM Lotus Domino provides encrypted communications between BlackBerry mobile devices and servers running Domino, such as the IBM i. The optional BlackBerry MDS Integration Service supports custom application development and distribution of Domino apps to BlackBerry mobile devices.
Seagull Software, a Rocket Software brand
Rocket Legasuite GUI converts IBM i green-screen, mainframe, or UNIX server applications to mobile-friendly, graphical, and Web-compatible versions. New versions can function exactly as the originals, or add new features with minimum effort. The new versions also integrate with existing databases, client apps, and browser apps.
Rocket LegaSuite Mobile enables developers to directly create enterprise mobile applications that integrate with any enterprise server applications, including IBM i. Developed applications run on a variety of mobile devices that use a wide variety of screen sizes and resolutions, don't require an app store, and interact with legacy apps in real time.
Rocket Legasuite Workflow integrates enterprise workflow across multiple applications on multiple platforms, including IBM i and mobile devices. The product also logs all workflow transactions to support auditing and compliance requirements.
Surround Technologies' Accelerator suite consists of three applications that can be used for modernizing IBM i applications and displaying them on mobile devices: Accelerator for IBM i Silverlight, Accelerator for IBM i Windows Presentation Foundation, and Accelerator for IBM i HTML 5. The first works with Microsoft Silverlight, a plug-in tool for the .NET framework that helps developers create and deliver RIA applications and media experiences. Accelerator for IBM i Windows Presentation Foundation works with the MS WPF of .NET to generate documents, media, two- and three-dimensional graphics, animations, Web-like characteristics, and more. The third application works with HTML5, a still-in-development version of Hypertext Markup Language, used for structuring and presenting Web content.
SmartPad4i lets developers build a single version of an RPG application and then deploy it to IBM i servers, Windows and Mac PCs, and mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. Generated apps support all major browsers, can be installed directly on supported mobile devices to access local services, and utilize all HTML components.
Legacy Mobilization is an application-conversion service that transforms green-screen server applications to versions compatible with access via browsers, mobile devices, or cloud services. (Transoft was acquired by Advanced Computer Software Group on March 18, 2013. Both companies say there are no current plans to alter services offered by Transoft.)
Zend Studio is an IDE for Zend's PHP language. Zend Studio offers drag-and-drop application-building tools that enable construction of software for IBM i servers, clients, and mobile devices. Zend Studio incorporates the Zend Server Gateway, a set of APIs that enable connection of mobile devices to cloud-based server apps.